After directing a slew of successful romcoms, Dan Villegas forays into the realm of horror with this latest offering. Ilawod on the surface seems like a conventional horror movie, it does touch on some interesting things along the way.
Its primary antagonist is a water elemental with a malevolent streak. Displaced from the rural setting that it is accustomed to, the titular Ilawod is thrust into the claustrophobic spaces of the city, where it terrorizes a modern Filipino family.
Whenever Asian Horror places its story in the context of family, the family often suffers from a certain kind of dysfunction. For example, Hideo Nakata's Dark Water (2001), which coincidentally also features a water spirit, stars a single mother and her daughter; single mothers are also the subject of Nakata's seminal film Ring (1998), and a broken family is the cause of the titular Grudge (2003, among others).
In this case, however, the family doesn't really seem to have problems on the surface: it looks like a perfectly normal, complete family. What the Ilawod does in this context is amplify the family's own personal neuroses, with the only exception of the youngest, most innocent member of the family. There's a backstory to the family in Ilawod that we only get glimpses of; and the entity uses that to her advantage.
The Ilawod herself exudes a very feminine vibe - and throughout the movie the male characters are unable to stop her or are unable to resist her temptations. The most anyone could do in the movie to stop the Ilawod is to drive it away temporarily. This proves to be a large source of problems for the head of the family (played by Ian Veneracion,) whose pride becomes folly*. If you go with this particular interpretation, it's a challenge to the role of the male or father in today's society: just as much as folktales change and evolve from past to present, so does the definition of 'family'.
While the horror aspect of the movie plays it rather safe, there's a lot in the execution of Ilawod that makes it a noteworthy local horror film and a promising start to 2017.
* then again, had Ian Veneracion's character swallowed his pride instead, there's no indication there would be any difference in the ending. But that's kind of missing the point that his authority as father and head of the family is severely undermined by the presence of the Ilawod.
Darkroom combines teen horror with found footage, perhaps one of the first of its kind in the country. It's directed by Pedring Lopez, who helmed 2015's Nilalang, a film that, despite its shortcomings, had a lot of imagination behind it.
The film begins with an exorcism that ends rather abruptly (is it a coincidence it was filmed a day before the EDSA revolution? In some interpretations of the film, perhaps not.) We then see a number of teens preparing for a visit to said house in the present day, fulfilling all sorts of horror cliches.
The first half of the film is rather mundane as the teens go about their respective activities. It's all boring on the surface. But if you look behind the lines, there's something different lurking behind the surface. As we know, inevitably, these people will meet grisly ends, the high point of most horror films of this subgenre. As such, this first half is self reflection on the sheer vapidity of some of these characters.
Found footage is a genre that really works within the selfie-obsessed, instagram-taking generation that these characters embody. These characters are concerned mostly about themselves. These are the sorts of kids that take selfies on Holocaust memorials, ignorant of the meaning behind the place. They ignore the atrocities of the past, thinking that these atrocities are of no consequence to them. Of course, that's hardly the case. As such, Darkroom can be viewed as a subtle critique of our current generation.
Once things get going (sadly, not for long enough) things get entertaining. There's a lot of blood and gore to satisfy a good number of horror fans, and although some of the horror moments aren't as effective as others, they're decent enough. (Bret Jackson being an excellent screamer with fantastic eyelashes really helps.) On the other hand, some scenes are a bit silly, and other scenes would have benefited more from implying rather than showing (something that found footage can do well.)
Darkroom is not perfect, but its a laudable first effort for the genre in local cinema.
|pictured: probably a better movie.|
Though it's more of a horror comedy (and the actual nature of the movie is even more of a mess than descriptions can allow), Mang Kepweng Returns will earn a place here for rather arbitrary reasons.
There's a scene in Mang Kepweng Returns that juxtaposes a funeral with gaudy spectacle. It's a joke that has a weird tone and isn't really funny. That's basically what this movie is in a nutshell.
The movie is based on a comic strip by Al Magat, who spawned two movie adaptations, Mang Kepweng (1979) and Mang Kepweng and Son (pictured, 1983) starring the late Chiquito. The original series is about the adventures and misadventures of a local faith healer, or albularyo, mixing comedy with supernatural elements. Admittedly I'm not a big fan of the brand of comedy in the original two films. It's the kind of "tito" humor that I kind of laugh along with during family get-togethers but would otherwise dismiss, but in the end I really don't mind either way.
Having said that, Mang Kepweng Returns takes this and applies the old MMFF formula to it - and by old MMFF I mean the braindead, pandering nonsense of MMFFs past. It comes as no surprise that this film was submitted to this year's MMFF and (rightly so, in my opinion,) rejected. Mang Kepweng Returns can be considered as spiritual sequel of sorts, where Mang Kepweng's son (also named Kepweng) inherits his father's bandana, the source of most of his powers.
The film doesn't really do a good job communicating this story. For one, the camerawork doesn't really suit the movie at all - it's a bit subtle, but the low angles, darkened lighting and at times handheld shots make this seem more like a gritty indie movie that a commercial horror comedy. The tone is a complete mess, and you really can't tell whether the film is taking things seriously or if everything's a joke. Seemingly important characters are put on a bus near the halfway point, only to reappear after a while for no reason.
The special effects range from not very good to halfway decent, including a computer generated original Mang Kepweng that reminds me of what ILM did with Rogue One, albeit with (probably) the budget of a few coins, some lint, and a bag of wet noodles. The film also makes references to the Chiquito adaptations, even getting a few jokes here and there, as well as from Chiquito's other films: for example, one scene in particular is almost lifted straight from Chiquito's Estong Tutong (1983).
Mang Kepweng is a faith healer, yet the film treats him as more of a comic book superhero, which doesn't really suit him as a character. The ending scene where Kepweng fights a number of supernatural creatures in a boring fight scene seems to hammer down this point.
Mang Kepweng Returns is a frankenstein's monster of a movie that needs to be put down for its own good. It's the type of MMFF film that should have died years ago, but keeps on shambling like a zombie long after its insides have rotted away.